Day 11 to the end

Well we arrived back at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution around noon on Saturday. Most of the day has been spent packing and preparing for our departure to our respective residences tomorrow. The treat of the evening for me was sharing dinner with my post-doctoral advisor Mary Rice. Mary is an emeritus scientist at the Smithsonian Institution and the former Director of the Smithsonian Marine Station at Link Port (now at Fort Pierce). She introduced me to the larvae of a wonderful group of animals, the sipunculan worms. I am hopeful that my lab can finish a research project on these pelagosphera larvae this summer.

Friday’s dives were not too productive with respect to reproductively ripe animals, but the morning dive (ca. 2,700 feet) was particularly deep and, as a result, some previously unseen animals were encountered. Of particular interest was a swimming sea cucumber Enypniaster eximia. E. eximia is red in color and roughly the size of a Nerf football. Although you may not believe that anything named a “cucumber” can be graceful, Enypniaster is an elegant, really breathtaking, swimmer. They will never win a speed contest, but theirs is an underwater ballet. The other creature that was a first for this cruise was the multi-armed sea star Novodinia antillensis. Most of us envision a sea star as a creature that wrestles open and digests a clam or mussel. Novodinia feeds in a very different manner – it deploys its many long arms up into the water column and capture shrimp-like organisms with pinchers called pedicellaria and then directs the prey to the mouth. Aside from this curious mode of feeding, this species is a reddish-orange in coloration and is a simply a beauty.

Overall this has been a successful cruise for everyone. The students all went down to the sea floor and viewed animals that many professional scientists only know from pictures. The objectives of the grant were largely met and the Oregon and Illinois groups will be returning to their respective campuses with embryos of shallow-water and deep-water species. The seas have been calm, the weather beautiful, and there were few interruptions of our work schedule. The down side (if there can be one) is that many of us are exhausted and have been “running” on adrenaline for a little while … and now the stress has stopped. Its 10 p.m. and bedtime for me.

I trust all is well in Bloomington.

Day 10

Today has been a mixed bag of activities. Drs. Emlet, Tyler and Young spent their morning hours spawning the Coelopleurus floridanus – a wholly successful endeavor. The existing cultures of Cidaris blakei, Stylocidaris lineata, Lytechinus euerces, and Linopneustes longispinus are progressing nicely, albeit slowly as they are living at 13 °C (55 °F). The dive this morning occurred off of New Providence Island within sight of the Atlantic casino, and we were lucky today. The dive yielded a dozen Linopneustes longispinus that will be spawned tomorrow.

Craig Brauer and I were successful today in making the first measurements of respiration (oxygen consumption) of embryos of Cidaris blakei. We incubate specimens in closed containers for 12 hours and then measure the difference in the amount of oxygen in chambers with and without embryos. We’ll start another set of measurements at midnight tonight and finish tomorrow at noon. Developmental stages of this C. blakei will accompany us back to Illinois where we can continue these measurements. We intend to take these and the existing cultures of embryos and larvae back to our respective campuses. I can’t wait for the joy of explaining why I am carrying bottles of water to the folks from the TSA at the Orlando airport on Sunday and why they should not be irradiated. Although the cruise is coming to an end, the work will follow us home.

There was a snorkel trip today in a shallow lagoon in the Egg Island area. Although I remained on board to take a nap, all reports suggest that the site was particularly rich in invertebrate and vertebrate animals. Craig B. was followed by barracuda, an eagle ray leapt out of the water, and there was an abundance of sea urchins and tropical fish. My colleagues brought me a gelatinous egg mass that contained developmental stages of a marine worm – a lovely example of direct development within an egg mass that is attached to the sea floor.

On each dive we have the ability to take still images of the animals we see. I have offered a couple of these below. Remember that what we see in the pictures is not what an animal would look like at depth, as the spectral quality of down-welling light varies as a function of depth.

This is a specimen of Araeosoma fenestratum. Unlike most sea urchins, this species has a soft “test”, but compensates for the reduced physical defense by having poisonous spines.

In the foreground is a specimen of Cidaris blakei, whose spines are covered by a type of sea anemone. Adult brittle stars (the white arms on this sea urchin) are commonly found with this species. In the far right corner of this image is a specimen of Linopneustes longispinus.

Day 9

What is worse, having a sick student in your classroom or a sick individual on a ship at sea? I can assure that the latter is the worse situation. A number of the science party and the sub crew have developed a nasty cold (with alternating chills and fever), but to date and knock on wood, I have been unaffected.

What a long day today has been. Late last night Maya Wolf (U. Oregon) discovered that a particular specimen of the sea urchin Linopneustes longispinus was a robust male filled with active sperm. This was surprising because this species is known to be reproductive only in the fall season. So, Tracey Smart and I induced the remaining specimens to spawn and we finished sometime after 2:30 a.m. Fortunately, we were successful and have very healthy cultures of developing embryos. For the record, L. longispinus is accurately named and I still have the spines in my finger as proof.

I had my last dive of the cruise today at a familiar site called Southwest Reef. As a postdoctoral at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (HBOI) and the Smithsonian Institution, I worked with Craig Young (then at HBOI, now the Director of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology [OIMB]) on a variety of projects in the early 1990s. The morning dive (also at Southwest Reef) located a number of cages that I helped construct ca. 15 years ago. With the “wish list” in hand we began the dive at 4 p.m. and descended to about 1700 feet. We traveled over steep hills and dales on the sea floor for nearly 2+ hours with only a few specimens of requested species to show for our efforts (other species that we did not need were, of course, in relatively high abundance). And then we happened upon a herd of Coelopleurus floridanus. C. floridanus is perhaps the most striking species of sea urchin that we have collected (or seen) on this cruise as it has long red and greenish curved spines of almost a foot in length…and it is reproductively active this time of year!

Before the dive, the aft scientist (“Ezzy” Cooper) and I were photographed with the OIMB mascot – Seymour (see the photo below).

To quote the Chief Scientist, “it’s crunch time.” Somebody is working for most of the hours in the day. Tomorrow we will be performing our first feeding experiments with larvae, complete and process two dives, spawn Coelopleurus and all of the sea stars we have collected and stored during the cruise. Egads, there are only two days before we head back to Florida!

Bio Box

Coelopleurus floridanus in the large “bio-box” at the front of the

Johnson-Sea-Link submersible at a depth of ca. 100 feet.

Sea Link

The Johnson-Sea-Link waiting to return to the R/V Seward Johnson

after a completed dive to Southwest Reef.


Erin “Ezzy” Cooper, Seymour, and I before our dive to Southwest Reef.


Seymour and I in the sphere of the Johnson-Sea-Link

before the dive today – he left before we closed the hatch.

Day 8

Well, I delivered my lecture last night outside on the bow of the ship. The moon was nearly full and the captain held us in one place, but we ran in a circle. Thus the moon was on my left, my right, and then my left again… It was a little disconcerting. The nighttime temperature is so nice (and no bugs) that we will continue these evening lectures for the remainder of the cruise. Following the lecture was the traditional preparation of Styrofoam cups. Can you guess what happens to a Styrofoam cup when it is dropped to a depth of 700 m (ca. 2100 feet)? It is common to commemorate the cruise by drawing appropriate images on your cup – I had everyone sign my cup. (See photo below.)

There are very few working days left and all hands are busy to complete their projects. Young Craig and I are working to measure the rate of oxygen consumption by larvae of the sea urchin Cidaris blakei that were spawned on the 15th. It’s been quite a while since I’ve worked on the metabolism of sea urchin embryos, so I don’t know when bedtime will be tonight.

The dives today have been moderately successful, with the collection of unusual sea urchins called Conolampus and Clypeaster. They should be reproductively active this time of year, but we won’t know until after tonight’s lecture (thankfully delivered by someone else). The students and the PIs are working hard to both get material to work on now and to take home. I will likely be returning to Bloomington with sea urchin larvae and some “pets” to continue to rear at IWU.

We will be returning to New Providence Island tonight for two dives at Southwest Reef tomorrow. The wish list is short – Stylocidaris lineata. Craig Young’s group will be carrying the adult sea urchins back to the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB) and will maintain them until they (the urchins) release their gametes (cross your fingers, etc.)

The cook “JB” is preparing wonderful meals and, alas, I am not exercising. To exacerbate the situation I hear the siren call of the ice cream freezer and succumb to temptation. I am not alone as many others are also tempted and also lose their willpower.


A Styrofoam cup before and after a trip to the deep sea.

Day 7

I’m embarrassed to write that I overslept today and didn’t roll out of the bunk until after 8 AM. I guess I “hit the wall” yesterday after getting to bed at 1:30 AM – there really was a time when I could always get up early, but, unlike my waistline, this ability has decreased.

Today has been a very busy day. The morning sub dive was a success and we are attempting to induce a variety of sea stars and sea urchins. Some of these species are not cooperating as we are too early or too late in their reproductive cycle. There is a degree of stress because we will be back in port on Saturday and we need to do some experiments on larval feeding. As our target species are living in rather cool water, development to the point of being able to capture particulate food requires a few days.

Young Craig (in contrast to Craig Young) and I have set up an experiment to examine the ability of larvae of snails to take up organic materials from seawater. On my last sub dive we collected a number of egg cases and from these, swimming larvae were released. These veliger larvae do not appear to have the ability to capture particulate foods, but we will see. Annie Pollard (U. Oregon) is performing an equivalent experiment using swimming embryos of the sea urchin Cidaris blakei. As both types of developmental stages are incapable of feeding (in the traditional sense) the results of these experiments should provide an opportunity for an interesting comparison. Craig and I are also beginning to measure the metabolism (oxygen consumption) of the snail larvae and we will then shift to work on the developmental stages of sea urchins. There seems to be too much to do and too little time…. A problem common to all research cruises.

News flash – a different sea urchin is spawning – Lytechinus euerces! We had two specimens and one was a male and the other was a female – what a stroke of luck. I started to work on metabolic coast of development of L. euerces perhaps 15 years ago and it will be nice to return to that project.

I have to give a lecture at 9:30 tonight and then it’s back to the lab…I think that it’s going to be a long night.

Day 6

We’re working around Eleuthra Island and our collecting trips have been generally quite successful. (If anyone is following the proposed cruise track – forget it – we have had to change our plans a number of times.) This particular area contains an abundance of solitary, predatory tunicates (sea squirts) at about 2,000 feet. These animals are of particular interest to the Chief Scientist Craig Young (U. Oregon) and he had a wonderful dive photographing these weird animals (each roughly the size of a tangerine). Upon return to the surface, he was successful at beginning a culture of these animals – a feat that has not been accomplished to date. For me, the highlight of this dive was the video footage of a 20-foot-length of a colony of colonial salps (actually close relatives of the tunicates that warm the cockles of Craig’s heart). Each individual of the colony was almost six inches in length – a truly astounding sight.

Late into the evening beginning at 10 p.m. began a collection of deep water (from a depth of 4,000 m – yes, that’s 12,000 feet). The students were processing the water samples well past midnight. I faded into the night at about 1 a.m. and many of the students were still working on the water samples or their own projects. Our own Craig Brauer (aka “Young Craig”) was collecting larvae of sea stars from a plankton sample taken this night that we will use to study the process of asexual reproduction by these lovely developmental forms.

Some of the students visited a small island during the afternoon and collected a number of shallow-water sea urchins. Richard Emlet (U. Oregon) was successful at beginning a nice culture of Tripneustes ventricosus and they should be swimming tomorrow morning. So let the experiments begin!

Day 5

The day started as each day should… by taking a sample of the surface (<30 m) plankton. It was a wonderful tow filled with animals that we need for experiments. When all else fails, one can look at tropical plankton and that act will to make you smile.

We have been blessed with delightful weather to date. Yesterday the ocean looked like a lake with just a hint of a breeze to create a slight ripple on the sea surface. The R/V Johnson bobbed gently in the swell while we worked inside and outside of the lab. The temperatures are probably in the mid-80s and the sky is dotted with clouds. This is, of course, a prime condition for massive sunburn for those of use whose ancestors came from some northern European state. To avoid this problem, I use a putty knife to apply SPF 45 sunscreen twice a day.

This afternoon offered an opportunity for a visit to Nassau and many of the group took advantage to reacquaint themselves with their land legs. Those of us who remained barbequed steaks on the back deck had a nice meal with corn, baked potatoes, and salad. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday evening before going back to the lab until 1 a.m.

Both submersible dives were less than spectacular and that is simply the nature of the game. The distribution of animals is not even on the ocean floor and a hundred meters can mean the difference between feast or famine for collecting. Tomorrow we will be working off of Egg Island in an area east of New Providence Island in hopes of finding some giant predatory ascidians (bottom dwelling distant relatives of our own species).

Day 4

What another wonderful day in the Bahamas…. The day began with a nice plankton tow from the upper 30 m which contained a number of sea cucumber larvae, oddly enough larvae of a weird group of animals called kamptozoans, and larvae of a nifty jellyfish called Linuche. The morning dive around Green Cay (our southernmost station) returned with a variety of sea stars and sea urchins. I was lucky enough to again be in the sphere for the afternoon dive and Heather Austin (U. Oregon) was in the aft chamber. We left at 4:30 p.m. and descended to a depth of about 1,600 feet. The pilot (Phil Santos) guided the JSL up and down 60 degree underwater canyons as we searched for a sea star called Astropecten – we collected a total of 17 individuals! We also spied a large number of structures that resembled the suction end of a “plumber’s helper.” These are the egg cases resemble the egg cases of the so-called moon snail of shallower marine environments, but we never saw or collected an adult snail.

There were two snorkeling excursions today and those who joined these parties saw an abundance of tropical fishes including barracuda, nurse sharks (a benign form), groupers, and all of those little pretty forms that one sees in texts. Craig Brauer seems to be embracing all aspects of the cruise research activities – he will be working late tonight to filter seawater samples to characterize the distribution of cyanobacteria in the water column.

The experiment that Annie Pollard performed on the sea cucumber larvae was a smashing success and we will continue to explore fluid flow in larvae throughout the remainder of the cruise. Tomorrow at 6 a.m. we will begin again by taking another plankton tow.

I’m told that there is a R & R expedition tomorrow evening in Naussau.

Day 3

(Written on day 4. Internet access is spotty at best.)

Busy, busy, busy – A morning sub dive, a snorkeling trip, a MOCNESS, and an afternoon sub dive made for a full day of work. In the morning and the afternoon dives, a large number of the sea urchin Stylocidaris lineata were collected and they were subsequently spawned. Because the temperatures at depth are a little cool (about 52 degrees F), they fertilized eggs were just beginning to divide when I went to bed at midnight.

The students of the “Deep-Sea Biology” course (U. Oregon) are beginning their projects. For some it will be quite amusing when they describe how they spent their time in the Bahamas working in a cold room (52 degrees inside; 85 degrees outside) wearing long pants and a sweat shirt. Sometimes life simply is not fair.

The processing of the MOCNESS (Multiple Opening/Closing Environmental Sampling System) samples began at 4:30 and continued until after midnight. The first few hours were filled with the laughter of happy, working students….it was pretty quiet when I finally headed down to my cabin at 12 AM. Personally, I like to sort plankton, but after working for that long a period of time, my bottom becomes more that a little sore.

Annie Pollard (U. Oregon) a cheerful graduate student (is there any other kind?) and I are working to explore the flow of dissolved organic materials into the bodies of larval and juvenile sea cucumbers. Our first experiment begins later today.

The food aboard the R/V Seward Johnson has been splendid. No major culinary discoveries this trip (although I do appreciate an automatic coffee bean grinder and an automatic coffee maker that operate 24/7). I have, however, located a secret cache of ice cream bars! I’m diving soon so I need to be mindful of my fluid intake as there are no restrooms at 2000 feet.

I’m a day behind in writing and I’m due to start the hunt for more starfish…

Dr. Michelle Wood (U. Oregon) prepared to begin a dive off of New Providence Island.

The sub is at the mercy of the surface waves when it returns to the surface.

Craig Brauer sorted the MOCNESS plankton samples deep into the night.

Day 2

Will Jaeckle and Craig Brauer
Will Jaeckle and

Craig Brauer

Today was magnificent! Craig Brauer and I completed a wonderful dive to about 700 meters within view of the Atlantis Hotel on New Providence Island. We collected five different species of sea urchins and a species of stalked crinoid (this latter animal is largely restricted to the deep-sea) and saw swimming sea cucumbers and brittle stars. There were actual “herds” of Archaeopneustes hystrix and Palaeopneustes tholoformis from which we collected specimens for our studies of the reproductive biology of deep-sea invertebrate animals. To offer a sense of the environmental differences between the surface and our working depth, the sea temperature was 25 °C at the surface and 11 °C at depth, we lost light at 700 meters, but I could tell up from down at 500 m and I could see the surface of the sea at a depth of 60 m. On our trip back to the surface all lights were extinguished and Craig and I were treated to a fantastic display of bioluminescence. We spent 3.5 hours simply enjoying our view of and work with life at this depth. When we arrived back to the R/V Seward Johnson, we had a quick lunch break, listened to Paul Tyler (National Oceanography Center, England) lecture on the physical characteristics of the deep-sea, and then, while the second sub dive was returning to the depths at a different site, we began the “spawn fest.” Craig and I collected 37 Cidaris blakei during our dive and, through the magic of a potassium chloride solution about half of these animals were induced to release their gametes….. and we succeeded in obtaining fertilized eggs! Alas, our attempts to induce Archaeopneustes hystrix and Clypeaster rosaseus (a shallow-water species collected by Richard Emlet, U. Oregon during our dive) were not successful. Tomorrow begins and ends with a sub dive and we will complete our first sampling of the animals that live in the sea from depths of 1,000 m to the surface (a mere 6 hours of sorting). We offer for the following images from this, our first full day of work.

Seward Johnson The 200-foot Research Vessel Seward Johnson
submersible Launching the Johnson Sea Link Submersible
Sea Urchin One of the sea urchins (Archaeopneustes histrix) we collected today
Craig Craig Brauer with the sea urchin (Palaeopneustes tholoformis) that will be used (hopefully) during this project
Crinoids Stalked crinoids collected at about 600 m: a rare find!
Spawning Spawning of the sea urchin Cidaris blakei requires many hands – from left to right Dr. Paul Tyler, Craig Brauer, Nadia Suarez-Bosche, Dr. Craig Young, Annie Pollard, and Dr. Richard Emlet